Portland senior goalkeeper Taylor Crosby dives to make a save in front of South Portland sophomore Julia Banks during the Bulldogs’ 2-1 victory Wednesday night.
Mike Strout photos.
More photos below.
PORTLAND—The old adage states that the best thing about freshmen is that they become sophomores.
Portland girls’ soccer coach Curtis Chapin would vehemently disagree.
That’s because he’s added a couple of freshmen this fall who have made an immediate and seismic impact on his squad and have helped the Bulldogs climb the standings in Class A South.
Wednesday evening, against up-and-coming South Portland at Fitzpatrick Stadium, freshmen and twin sisters Annika and Isabella More channeled their sibling rivalry into goal production and Portland earned another key victory as a result.
After a scoreless first half, which saw the Red Riots get the better of the play, the Bulldogs took over in the second half and went ahead for good when Isabella More scored on a rebound with 32:53 left.
After hitting the post earlier, Annika More joined her sister in the scoring column when she buried senior Hayleigh Blanchard’s corner kick with 10:51 to go for a 2-0 advantage.
But South Portland refused to go quietly and when senior Callie O’Brien scored with 2:19 remaining, things got very interesting, but Portland was able to slam the door and go on to a 2-1 victory.
The Bulldogs beat the Red Riots for the third year in a row, improved to 5-1-2 on the season and dropped South Portland to 2-5-1 in the process.
“I’m going to sound like a broken record, but it’s such a luxury to see two freshmen come in and not get pushed around,” said Portland first-year coach Curtis Chapin. “To see Annika score on a header, that was beautiful. Isabella had a nice goal too. They like to go after each other, but it’s a healthy rivalry. They play their best together.”
Both Portland and South Portland have hopes of making a deep playoff run this season.
The Bulldogs, who were ousted by Kennebunk in last year’s preliminary round, opened with a 3-0 home win over Cheverus, then settled for 1-1 draws at Noble and at home against perennial powerhouse Windham. After beating Thornton Academy, 1-0, for the first time in a dozen years, Portland dropped a controversial 2-1 overtime decision at Marshwood, then blanked visiting Massabesic (6-0) and Westbrook (3-0).
South Portland, which missed the postseason in 2015, started with losses at Sanford (4-3) and Deering (2-0) and a 3-0 home setback to defending regional champion Gorham, then defeated host Bonny Eagle (3-1). After a 4-0 home loss to Scarborough, the Red Riots beat visiting Biddeford (6-1) and settled for a 1-1 draw at Maine Girls’ Academy.
Portland entered the game holding a 9-6 edge (with one tie) in the series since the start of the 2001 season (see sidebar, below). The Bulldogs won last year, 3-1, in South Portland.
Wednesday, on a chilly night, the Red Riots were seeking their first win over Portland since 2013, but the Bulldogs made it three in a row in the series thanks to a strong second half.
Early in the game, Portland had the better of the chances, but Isabella More was denied by South Portland senior goalkeeper Zoe Brown, senior Kate Johnson had a long shot denied, a corner kick from Blanchard was headed into the box by junior Gracie Lagrange and ultimately cleared out of harm’s way, Isabella More shot wide and a shot from sophomore Sydney Girsch was saved by Brown.
The Red Riots then carried play most of the rest of the half, as junior Juliana Selser sent a blast just wide, freshman Hattie Tetzlaff’s shot was denied by Bulldogs senior goalkeeper Taylor Crosby and with 13:50 left in the half, junior Meghan Graff’s shot slipped through Crosby’s fingers, but the keeper got back to dive on the ball just before sophomore Julia Banks could bury the rebound.
“I was starting to celebrate, but their goalie did a great job getting back and making that save,” said South Portland coach Jeff Selser.
Down the stretch in the first half, Juliana Selser had a shot saved by Crosby, a long free kick from sophomore Jenna Leckie was also saved and at the other end, Isabella More’s promising rush was broken up at the last second by Red Riots sophomore back Bela Coutier.
South Portland had a 4-3 edge in shots on frame in the first half but the game remained scoreless.
The Bulldogs then got their offense going in the second half.
With 36:17 to play, Johnson beat two defenders, but Brown cut off her angle and stopped her shot.
Portland next shot resulted in its first goal.
The play began with a free kick from Lagrange which ricocheted in front. Annika More couldn’t get her foot on the ball, but her sister sure could and Isabella More buried it for a 1-0 lead with 32:53 remaining.
“I knew we’d score eventually,” Isabella More said. “We had possession, so I knew we’d get one. It was a rebound and I kicked it and it went in. Everyone worked together well. We were more confident in the second half.”
Johnson tried to double the lead, but one shot went wide and another was saved by Brown.
With 24:36 left in regulation, South Portland almost tied the score, but junior Sophie Chase’s shot beat a diving Crosby only to hit the outside of the near post.
Four minutes later, Portland hit the post as well, as Annika More’s header just missed the mark.
Annika More finally got her goal with 11:02 left and it came on a set piece.
On a corner kick, Blanchard lofted the ball right in front and More was there to head it home for a 2-0 lead.
“I had a header that hit the post before, then Hayleigh’s corner went right off my head and in,” More said. “It’s been eye-opening learning so much from the older players. It’s been a fun experience. They’ve taught me so much.”
“Normally, I’m looking for Kate on corner kicks, but the twins have done really well, so I look for them too,” Blanchard said. “They’re the future of our team. We have a lot of seniors and we have to let go. To have good, strong freshmen who know how to play is really helpful.”
To their credit, the Red Riots fought until the final horn.
After Graff had a good look saved by Crosby, South Portland got on the board in transition with 2:19 left, as Graff sent a long pass ahead to O’Brien. O’Brien got behind the defense and beat Crosby with a high shot to make it 2-1 and suddenly make things very interesting.
South Portland would get one look to tie, but with 1:20 remaining, after Leckie set her up, Selser shot high and wide.
The Bulldogs ran out the clock from there and celebrated their 2-1 victory.
“We were explosive, but we weren’t finishing in the first half,” Chapin said. “To be fair, they were better with possession. We made some changes and I think we came out and settled down in the second half.”
Portland finished with an 11-7 edge in shots, got six saves from Crosby and took seven corner kicks to none for South Portland.
An unheralded aspect of the Bulldogs’ win didn’t show up in the box score, however. Portland’s defense, anchored by junior Ella Altidor and for the time being, featuring Blanchard as sweeper, helped hold off the Red Riots.
“I haven’t played defense in a long time,” Blanchard said. “I’m filling in. It’s good to have Ella back there because she’s so confident. We have good communication and Taylor’s an amazing goalie. She always does well.”
“We’re missing (senior) Hannah (Callender) and when CC (freshman Cecilia Ritter) went down, we had to move Hayleigh to the back,” Chapin said. “She’s a great player anyway. She’s done a great job.”
South Portland got nine saves from Brown and showed glimpses of excellence, but still fell short.
“I thought it was back and forth the whole way,” Jeff Selser said. “Portland’s a strong team, but I’m really proud of how beautifully my team played. I thought we had more chances. Their goalie made a spectacular save and we hit two posts. We were evenly matched.
“Our record doesn’t show how good a team we are. We played a lot of tough teams early. We’re coming on strong and we’ve worked on fixing what’s let us down. I think we’re showing we’re more competitive than we have been. For us, a lot of it is mental toughness. Today, we stayed in it, even after we got down. We didn’t give up and everyone put in a great effort.”
South Portland is hoping for its first playoff berth since 2012, but will need to win some games down the stretch. The Red Riots (currently 12th in the Class A South Heal Points standings) host Westbrook Friday, then welcome Thornton Academy Wednesday of next week. Games at Cheverus and Massabesic and home tilts versus Windham and Noble also loom.
Twelve teams make the playoffs, so South Portland very much controls its postseason path.
“I’m very optimistic for the rest of our season,” Jeff Selser said. “The remaining games we have are winnable. Our goals are to make the playoffs and have homefield advantage in our first game. I think we can pull it off.”
Portland (now fourth in Class A South) has to go to Scarborough Saturday, then visits Bonny Eagle Wednesday of next week. Home games against Gorham and Sanford and trips to Biddeford and Deering also remain.
“I honestly didn’t expect we’d be this good, but I’m pleased we are,” Blanchard said. “We have to keep working hard in practice, focus, be positive and be confident.”
“The players are doing their jobs,” Chapin added. “They keep stepping up. I love our core and what we do. The girls are buying in. I don’t think we’ve been in any game where we didn’t feel like we couldn’t win and I don’t see that changing. I’m looking forward to the next few games and I know the girls are too.”
South Portland sophomore Jenna Leckie fights off Portland freshman Isabella More. More had one of the Bulldogs’ two goals.
South Portland junior Juliana Selser fires a shot as Portland junior Morgan Kierstead defends.
Portland senior Kate Johnson launches a shot as South Portland sophomore Grace Steady, left, and senior Sophia Romano look on.
Portland freshman Annika More tries to fight through South Portland junior Meghan Graff, left, and junior Margaret Clay. More scored the Bulldogs’ second goal.
Portland junior Morgan Kierstead tries to knock the ball away from South Portland sophomore Grace Steady.
Portland senior Andrea Lynch and South Portland senior Callie O’Brien battle for possession.
Portland 3 @ South Portland 1
@ South Portland 2 Portland 1
@ South Portland 1 Portland 0
South Portland 2 @ Portland 0
South Portland 2 @ Portland 1
Portland 1 @ South Portland 0
@ Portland 4 South Portland 0
Western A quarterfinals
@ Portland 2 South Portland 0
Portland 4 @ South Portland 0
@ Portland 1 South Portland 0
@ South Portland 0 Portland 0 (tie)
@ South Portland 4 Portland 1
@ Portland 2 South Portland 1
Portland 1 @ South Portland 0
South Portland 3 @ Portland 1